Enjoying Murder and a Headache

08 Apr 2020 11:26 AM | Frances Dickey (Administrator)

Eliot’s letters to Hale in May and June 1935 weave together his impressions of the rehearsals and first performances of Murder in the Cathedral with plans to see Hale and reflections on their visits, including one evening that he says was the most wonderful of his life. 

On May 20, Eliot responds to a letter from Hale in which she has humbly offered some criticisms of Murder; praising her dramatic instinct, he reassures her that even if she takes no credit for her good qualities, she is beautiful, charming, intelligent and spiritual. A few days later, Eliot reports that rehearsals for the play have begun, and he has secured tickets to The Gondoliers, which they plan to see together in London, along with a ballet. On May 30, Eliot writes that he and Yeats see eye to eye on modern poetry—i.e., poets more modern than themselves. In the first week of June, Hale comes to London for a visit and they return together on the train to Chipping Campden for a birthday party (maybe one of the Perkins or her aunt Irene Hale). Their train ride together provided a great and unique thrill, he writes. On his return, she gathered some flowers for him in the garden of Stamford House (where she was staying with the Perkins), flowers whose fragrance he is now enjoying in his rooms.

Hale must have come back up to London between June 7 and June 13, the day on which Eliot writes to her that he has just experienced one of the most wonderful evenings of his life. She had a headache, and he stroked her forehead. This gave him the opportunity to observe her beautiful nose. He also went out to get some medicine for her, and she kissed him when he left. He has always wanted to take care of her during an illness, and she was kind to allow him to think that he was doing something for her. She responds with a letter that he says (on June 16) is too precious to place in the metal box where he normally keeps her correspondence. She has corroborated what he felt. He wants her to know that their evening together was the great event of his life, symbolizing all that he wants to do for her. The memory of it is sublime. Every meeting with her is more exciting than the last.

Eliot’s June 16 letter also reflects on the premiere of Murder, performed the previous evening. He is very pleased, especially with Robert Speaight’s rendering of Thomas à Beckett’s sermon, and with the solemnity and silence with which the performance ends. He wants Hale to meet the producer Martin Browne and his Jewish wife—Eliot takes the time to explain that his objection to Jews is religious, not racial. He also doesn’t think that women in shorts should be allowed into the Cathedral. Hale has her own opportunity to see Murder some time before June 26, when Eliot writes that their time at Canterbury was too public, though better than not seeing her at all. They walked the Cathedral grounds as if being watched through a telescope, pursued by chorus girls and autograph-seekers. He likes to see her in the anonymity of London, like the time they rode in a taxi down Ludgate Hill, or—best of all—the evening of her headache.


  • 08 Apr 2020 1:30 PM | CR Mittal
    This is, indeed, togetherness at its best. Seems wholly blissful.
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  • 08 Apr 2020 5:17 PM | Jonathan Morse
    "To do a book on Molière at any time within the next ten years would only be a nuisance to me" (letter to W. S. Stallybrass, 7 June 1926, 3.161).

    And Eliot's Nosferatu reaction to Emily's headache reminds us how much we have lost by being deprived of his reaction to "Le Malade imaginaire."
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    • 10 Apr 2020 7:40 PM | Sonetka
      I am rather surprised that after his wife's many illnesses, he was so overjoyed to be playing the role of caretaker to Hale. Perhaps because he was more confident that her recovery would be permanent?
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  • 08 Apr 2020 7:50 PM | CR Mittal
    One can understand why Eliot was wary of his personal letters made public.
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  • 11 Apr 2020 10:58 AM | CR Mittal
    The Rainbow
    Effie Waller Smith

    Love is a rainbow that appears 
    When heaven’s sunshine lights earth’s tears. 
    All varied colors of the light 
    Within its beauteous arch unite: 
    There Passion’s glowing crimson hue 
    Burns near Truth’s rich and deathless blue;
    And Jealousy’s green lights unfold 
    ‘Mid Pleasure’s tints of flame and gold. 
    O dark life’s stormy sky would seem, 
    If love’s clear rainbow did not gleam!

    This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on April 11, 2020 by the Academy of American Poet
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  • 15 Apr 2020 11:11 AM | CR Mittal
    The title ENJOYING MURDER AND A HEADACHE takes quite a dig at Eliot.
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